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Searching for the Good Life Published: Sunday, March 18, 2001 By: Dr. Manuel Angel Morales

This is what we have learned from a distinguished philosopher and wiseman. The urge to acquire more and more things seems to be unhealthy. In truth, the things that we own may retaliate by owning us. Let me explain. This wiseman once asked me the following. Of all things in this room, which do you like best? I pointed to his books and them he said very well, take them. So just to force my good teacher and philosopher I grasped a whole bunch of them. Now don`t let them go, said the teacher, with some irony; and he added: Isn`t there anything else that you want? I pointed once again to his leather bag. He told me to go on and take it, which I did with some difficulty. Then he told me to scratch myself, which of course I could not do. He them explained that this is what happens when you need to scratch on itch on some part of your body, mind or spirit…

Frequently, what we have in our grip has us in its grasp, we have to be careful not to exceed ourselves. Life is very complicated and hands are not just for grasping but also for scratching oneself and for caressing. So we have to be alert. Sometimes when people are too obsessed with accumulating things they are prone to treat people as things. A dangerous simplification, that is precisely what makes life so complex, the fact that people are not things. You can buy and sell things, but you cannot buy and sell people. You make use of things as long as they are useful, and later, you dispose of them. You cannot do the same with people. If you do this with lovers, friends, employees, political rivals or any other living thing you will inflict a great deal of pain in others, and also you will do a serious damage to yourself.

This is what one of my favorite philosophers taught me. From things, even the best things, can come only things. Nothing can give more than it has, nor can it give more than it is. Money helps in almost every case, but it cannot buy true friendship. A television set can lend a part to another television set, but it cannot give a kiss. If we were simply things, what we get from things would be enough for us. Since we are not just things, we need things that things don`t have. No thing can give us respect, love or that essential complicity that can arise only between equals, that we as people can receive only from other people whom we treat in the same way.

The question of treatment is very important, for human beings humanize one another. By treating other people as people, not as things (by taking note of what they want and what they need, and not just what we can get from them), we make it possible for them to give back to us what only people can give to one another…

Sometimes you can treat others as people and get back nothing more than blows, betrayals or abuses. Yes. But even so you can retain the respect of at least one person, namely, yourself. Thus, the challenge is to discover just what makes for a good life in depth, beyond what people tell you, beyond what we see in television, that fortunate life we would like to enjoy.

This was the meaning of Seneca`s expression “as for those pretenders whose busy poverty has usurped the name of wealth, they posses their riches in the same way that we might be said to posses a fever, namely it posses us”.


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